Utah Jazz rookie Walker Kessler is 6th in the entire NBA in blocks per game, with 1.8. He’s 7th in total blocks, with 44.
And he’s only playing 16.2 minutes per game.
He’s putting up a whopping 4.1 blocks per 36 minutes, and in his first career start, he backed that up by swatting five shots in only 24 minutes. Simply put, he’s a shot-blocking machine.
Kessler uses his 7’1” frame and 7’4” wingspan to make himself as big as possible with his arms straight up. When he’s in position, he can challenge shots - and sometimes even block them - by just standing in the way with his arms in the air. Despite not being known for athleticism and sometimes looking heavy-footed, the rookie can quickly recover to shot-blocking position. He can defend the ball handler in the pick-and-roll. He can block bigs trying to back him down in the post. He’s doing it all.
Outside of his rim protection, Kessler has also impressed with his ability to defend in space, especially in the pick-and-roll. Coach Will Hardy has made it clear that Kessler will just be playing drop defense for now, but there are signs that he may be able to do more. While he’s not a super quick mover, he is positionally sound and good at moving his feet. As he gets more time in the league, we may see him defending in different situations more often.
Offensively, Walker Kessler is doing precisely what he’s supposed to do. He’s being a vertical threat at the rim, grabbing offensive boards, and finishing the chances he gets. He’s shooting 76.3% from the field. While that’s partially due to his shot selection (Kessler is yet to take a shot from outside 10 feet), his finishing skills around the rim need to be acknowledged. Kessler has a soft touch on many his layups and can finish with control even when moving fast or catching lobs in awkward positions. He finishes with either hand on either side of the basket. He’s not typically going to power through a defender and dunk on him. He’d prefer to pivot, use the rim as protection, and find a reverse layup or dunk. Kessler’s patience and decision-making at the rim have proven to be great strengths. The type of control and touch he shows are rare for players of his size and build. Kessler is averaging 13.3 points per 36 minutes. If given a starting role, he could be a respectable scorer without needing many plays run for him.
It may be hard to Will Hardy to find more minutes for his rookie center because of the amount of talent Utah has in the frontcourt, but Kessler is showing how much he deserves to be on the court. His time will come, and he’ll be ready to prove himself when it does.